Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
For the U.S. Men’s National Team, now is crunch time.
Following Wednesday’s roster announcement for next week’s friendly vs. Mexico, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann talked about the importance of his final camp before World Cup preparations get underway in May in a video released by U.S. Soccer.
Klinsmann said that currently there is a very businesslike attitude from the players hoping to play in Brazil this summer, and added that there needs to be given how deep into the World Cup cycle the team is.
“Everybody gets a feel that the clock is ticking and everybody knows now that, ‘I need to be in pole position and here and I need to impress in those games with my club,’ and the only way you can impress is if you play from the beginning on,” said Klinsmann. “I think they get a sense of urgency now and they know that we’re just kind of a couple of weeks away from going into preparation and I think with whoever you communicate, no matter if it’s a text message or on the phone line, you hear that form the players as well that they get an understanding that now they’ve got to step it up.”
Klinsmann also went into detail in the standing of two of the players called into this 22-man camp. First, he touched on midfielder Michael Bradley, who has gotten off to a solid start in the MLS season with Toronto FC after making a surprise transfer from AS Roma back in January.
Bradley has commanded the midfield for a TFC side that is now 2-0 for the first time in franchise history, and his play in the club’s two matches has been encouraging for Klinsmann.
“Now having MLS back in the picture and picking up its rhythm, it’s just great to see Michael Bradley being there on the field and showing everybody how good of a player he is,” said Klinsmann. “Obviously, he had to be stitched up a little bit after that clash (vs. D.C. United’s Davy Arnaud), but he had a good performance and it’s very, very important to us that our leaders in our group are really getting a rhythm and getting their games in.
“Seeing now Michael back on the field and the other ones as well is really, really important and we take it from there.”
The other player the U.S. boss went into specifics about was midfielder Maurice Edu, who has not been called up by Klinsmann in more than a year. Edu last played for the Americans in a 0-0 draw on the road vs. Mexico in World Cup qualifying in March 2013, but had not been summoned by Klinsmann in the camps that followed because of his lack of playing time with Stoke City.
Having moved away from that unfavorable situation by joining the Philadelphia Union on loan this past winter, Edu is now seeing consistent minutes in MLS and has performed well enough in the early weeks of the season that Klinsmann wants to take another gander at the veteran before narrowing down the U.S. roster.
“We’re looking for Mo that he gives us that sense of urgency,” said Klinsmann. “Actually that decision coming on loan back to MLS just to now get playing, just to jump in the Union team and be a leader right away and help them get off the right foot in MLS shows you that he understands that the timing has to be there now and that he has to play, He could’ve sat there on the bench at Stoke and maybe not playing much, then there’s no chance for him to get on the World Cup roster.
“He understood it, he took the consequences, he took the decision to come back and now he’s picking it up. We’re looking forward to having Mo back with us because once he is in a rhythm, once he is fit, and once he is really kind of zoomed in and knows what to do then he’s a very good player.”
This batch of U.S. players is littered with talent, but most of it comes from MLS and Liga MX as Klinsmann could not call his European-based regulars due to the April 2 match in Phoenix, Ariz. not falling on an official international date.
Still, Klinsmann wants to see these players make one last statement in the latest chapter in the El Tri rivalry before heading back to their clubs ahead of May’s pre-World Cup camp.
“What we expect is that they really show a very, very strong performance against a Mexican team now that is basically coming back on track,” said Klinsmann. “They went the difficult route with New Zealand to qualify as the fourth-placed team in CONCACAF and they got their lesson in 2013, very harsh lessons that they had, many coaching changes. Now, they want to kind of get back on track, which they’re doing, and nothing better than doing that against their main rival, the United States, so we really have to be on our toes.
“We have to be very, very focused and alert and maybe similar to CONCACAF Champions League, we don’t have that many games in our players that the Mexicans have that start their championship already at the end of January, so that might be a little advantage for them. But we’ll make sure that everybody is on board and (the U.S players) obviously have a point to prove because we’re just a couple of weeks away from deciding on the 23 guys that go to Brazil.”